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Shaw & Smith – Lenswood, Lenswood Murray Leake & Ben Jonas

Top Vineyards

Michael Hill Smith and Martin Shaw are Adelaide Hills pioneers, championing the vinous virtues of the Hills long before many of the region’s celebrated makers were of drinking age. With two sites in the region, their loftiest and coolest is the Lenswood Vineyard, a 20-hectare site planted to chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Currently in organic conversion, the site is managed by Murray Leake, who is also overseeing an ambitious project to double the vine density without removing any of the mature vines.

Cousins Michael Hill Smith MW and Martin Shaw started their Shaw + Smith label in 1989, acquiring a site in the Adelaide Hills at Balhannah in 1999, where they planted vines and built a winery and tasting room. In 2012, the pair purchased an existing vineyard in the cooler zone of Lenswood, at around 500 metres elevation.

Above: Martin Shaw and Michael Hill Smith. Opposite: Murray Leake.

The Lenswood vineyard, on brown clay over loam soils with pockets of shale, was first planted in 1999 to chardonnay and pinot noir, with sauvignon blanc added in 2000. More chardonnay and pinot noir came the following year, resulting in just over 20 hectares under vine in total. All vines are planted on own roots, excepting two chardonnay blocks grafted to Bernard clones. The vineyard is tended to by Group Viticulturist Murray Leake alongside Ben Jonas.

Leake has been a leading viticulturist in the Adelaide Hills for a couple of decades, giving him rare insights into the region and how it has changed. “Over the last 20 years, I’ve seen earlier and more compressed vintages on a more regular basis,” he says. “Therefore, vine management practices have also changed and may continue to. However, the basics of good growing and crop regulation remain key to maintaining quality, even in a changing environment.”

Part of Leake’s evolution of methods has seen the Shaw + Smith sites enter into organic conversion, but this process has been somewhat of a smooth transition, with organic practices and a focus on soil health long a feature of his viticulture.

The organic certification process, however, has naturally meant that now no synthetic chemicals are employed, with Leake using alternative measures to achieve “a natural balance between beneficial organisms, insects, plants and the like to allow vines to establish a natural defence against pathogens and pests”.

Above: chardonnay. Opposite: pinot noir.
“The Lenswood Vineyard chardonnay always has a beautiful tight line of acid that reflects the high, cool site,” says Leake. “It shows restraint and subtlety, but also great flavour, and floral notes are a highlight. The vineyard comes through in the Lenswood Vineyard pinot noir in the gorgeous perfume. There’s an ethereal beauty to the Lenswood pinot, and it comes through every year.”

“Being able to manage our vineyard organically has seen great improvements in soil health and vine health,” says Leake, “resulting in what we believe gives a resistance to environmental pressures, as well as quality improvements. Managing our vineyards organically reduces the environmental impact not only on our own site but that of our neighbours.”

A mid-row grass sward is maintained throughout the Lenswood Vineyard to improve soil structure, increase biodiversity, prevent erosion, maintain soil moisture and also return nutrients, while applications of compost have increased the organic matter in the soil, increasing fertility. The vineyard also has established biodiversity corridors, which harbour birds and microbats that prey on problematic insect populations, tipping the competitive balance towards beneficial species.

Above: a swarm of bees looks for a home in the vineyard. Opposite: a microbat box on a tree in the vineyard. Microbats prey on problematic insect populations.

The Lenswood site is one that receives good rainfall, though irrigation is still minimally used from their dam. The aim is to reduce this reliance even further, with soil probes constantly providing data to allow precision irrigation and reduce water use. An experimental pest and disease program is also being trialled to reduce and potentially eliminate the use of copper in the vineyard.

Leake has also begun the process of increasing the density of the vineyard without disrupting the mature vines through vine layering, which involves laying down a cane from an existing plant to propagate a new vine. By doing this, he aims to double the density of the vineyard to about 4,800 vines per hectare, which he believes will have great benefits for the productive balance of the vines by naturally reducing their crop load.

Leake has begun the process of increasing the density of the vineyard without disrupting the mature vines through vine layering, which involves laying down a cane from an existing plant to propagate a new vine. By doing this, he aims to double the density of the vineyard.

“We see the personality of this vineyard come through really strongly in both chardonnay and pinot noir,” says Leake, but he believes increasing the density, which he hopes to complete within three years, will eventually even better express the terroir of the site in the finished wines, which are already some of the Adelaide Hills’ most acclaimed.

“The Lenswood Vineyard chardonnay always has a beautiful tight line of acid that reflects the high, cool site,” says Leake. “It shows restraint and subtlety, but also great flavour, and floral notes are a highlight. The vineyard comes through in the Lenswood Vineyard pinot noir in the gorgeous perfume. There’s an ethereal beauty to the Lenswood pinot, and it comes through every year.”

A mid-row grass sward is maintained throughout the Lenswood Vineyard to improve soil structure, increase biodiversity, prevent erosion, maintain soil moisture and also return nutrients.